Many years ago I knew a bubbly, vivacious young woman. We were both at the same stage of life, preoccupied with raising children and forging workable relationships.
We lost touch, and the next time we met, maybe 30 years later, I didn’t recognize her. She wore saffron robes and a shaved head. Not only that, but she had a new Buddhist name! She did recognize me, though, and we marveled at how different our lives had become. We had both changed, but her change was more visible than mine.
What is curious to me is that my memory often reverts to the self she was as a pre-Buddhist nun. My memory is not up to date! What part of her remains the same? What parts of her (and me) are different?
Do you relate through the self you used to be or your current self?
This is worth thinking about for a moment, particularly when you are relating to your intimate partner. Do you allow yourself to change? And your partner? No doubt you carry parts of yourself, more or less unchanged, through the whole of your life span. Nevertheless, you are evolving, changing and growing. Your cells undergo complete replacements. Often your world view, your values and how you live your life changes radically as well. Allow yourself and your partner to be fluid, not fixed. Only when we are fluid can we grow and change. You might like to read “Want to change, but don’t know how? Here are the steps”.
It is delightful to reminisce and treasure your early days together as a couple. However, is it confusing and frustrating for your partner if you speak to him or her as if they haven’t changed? Conversely, what is it like when your partner reminds you that your favourite food is chicken cacciatore? But you can’t even bear the smell of it now? What if you prefer your partner’s previous self to the way she currently expresses herself? Do you wish she hadn’t changed?
On the other hand, do you find yourself saying, “You are ALWAYS late!” In reality, your partner was always late 10 years ago and has put a lot of effort into being punctual so he is almost never late now. So, he is likely to feel misrepresented and disheartened. He has changed! You are referring to an older version of himself. Remember, allow yourself and your partner to be fluid, not fixed. Stay up to date! Stay present! Read “Why develop the capacity to stay present?”
I am preparing another Insight on “Taking the most benevolent perspective”, which will help you on this point too.
Allow for change in yourself – and in your partner.
Clearly, my relationship with the now-Buddhist nun is very different from the young mother of years ago. Her robes, shaved head, and new name keep pulling me back to the way she is living her life NOW. I, therefore, don’t expect her to be as she was in the past. Without such a visible reminder, however, it is easy to imagine that your partner has stayed the same.
Undoubtedly, it takes some effort to change our views, preferences, and responses.
Differentiation as a stage of growth in a relationship
In these Insights, I often mention the Developmental Model of couples therapy as taught through the Couples Institute. I continue my training at the Couples Institute because it keeps me growing and learning.
The initial stage of a relationship is symbiosis, where constancy of feeling and sameness helps to anchor and solidify the relationship. However, in a healthy relationship, we move to another stage – that of differentiation, where change and growth are celebrated. Change leads to growth and growth leads to change. If you find yourself wanting the relationship to be how it used to be, or long for the comfort of the patterns of the earlier stage, you might be wishing for a time that is no longer relevant, and to a self that no longer exists.
To keep your relationship alive, keep abreast of your partner’s likes and dislikes and changes in political allegiances, friendships, and hopes and dreams! Make sure to share the shifting sands of your own life with your partner too, so they don’t picture you in the past that is no longer relevant.
Celebrate the stages and changes in your relationship!
And Friedrich Nietzsche gets the last word:
“The snake which cannot cast its skin has to die. As well the minds which are prevented from changing their opinions; they cease to be mind.”